The Solbrig Team

Iowa’s Pioneers of the Air

Early airplanes were simple and often unreliable. Flying was dangerous, but many saw the air as a new American frontier. These pioneers of the air were willing to take the risk involved in flying. Out of their adventures and inventions the science of aviation was born.

One popular team in the early 1900s was an Iowa couple named Oscar and Mary Solbrig. Mary was an excellent airplane mechanic and her husband, Oscar, was a well-trained flyer. During the six years (1911-1917) that they worked in exhibition flying they were a highly respected flying team.

The Solbrigs lived in Davenport, a city where many people had an interest in flying. It was not long before Oscar and Mary were involved in flying.

New Equipment— Brakes

To learn more about flying and airplane construction, Oscar trained at the Curtiss Flying School and manufacturing plant in Hammondsport, New York. When he returned to Davenport he built his own Curtiss pusher-type biplane. He constructed the plane in sections that could be taken apart and put together easily. This made it possible to ship the plane in four crates from one air exhibition to another. Oscar designed and put brakes on the wheels, an uncommon piece of equipment in those times. Most planes just rolled to a stop.

Team Work

In 1915 Oscar was ready to go into the exhibition flying business. Mary was manager and made the plans for all the publicity and exhibitions. In addition, she worked as the "mechanician," a term she liked better than mechanic. She often worked late into the night cutting and fitting the linen fabric for wings and working on other aeroplane repairs.

In 1917 they retired from flying, and Oscar returned to his trade of machinist. Both are remembered for their contribution to the promotion of public interest in flying.


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “Iowa’s Pioneers of the Air,” The Goldfinch 2, no. 1 (September 1980): 6-10.